What the camera roll shows

I don’t remember when I received my first camera, but I remember, though, the pictures I snapped and what it felt like to wait to see if and how they turned out. I remember the words my dad said as he flipped through my pictures over the years, “You’re getting better.” What he meant, I believe, is that with time I had less pictures that were blurry or off center or half covered in black. You remember those photos, right? The ones with friends and family all looking in different directions, the ones with someone’s back to the picture, the ones with shadows and black lines, the ones with sun spots, the ones with blurred lines. Every time I developed a roll of film, there were always a handful of pictures that I either threw out or slipped in the back of my photo albums not to be shown to anyone.

Fast forward a few decades now and when I look through my old photos that were stuffed in boxes or bunched together in the back of albums, I see a different story. Yes, I see a young child’s attempt at photography, but I also see pictures that paint a picture of one moment in time. Every photo has a story and transports me back to my childhood: the travels and vacations, church events, graduation, college and dorm life, and much more. I look at them and feel the emotions from that time. I look at a picture and give thanks.

Today my daughter likes to take pictures with my phone’s camera. Gone are the film cameras and the waiting time between seeing photos. As soon as I or my daughter takes a picture, she says, “Can I see the picture, Mama?” Immediately we laugh at the photos that are funny, blurry, or only half-seen, and many times I delete those photos right away.

If I leave my phone in an easy to see spot, Charlotte will quietly take pictures. By the time I come back to my phone I find dozens of photos. I'm not the only one to have a camera roll of selfies and pictures of their children’s feet or the floor, right? Some days I only find selfies but other days I find her perspective in the photos - her favorite toys, a page she colored, the dog, or the view from our window.

“Can I take pictures mama?” It’s not only when we’re home, but while driving, or out walking. For Charlotte, there’s never a time not worthy of a photo. With the push of a button I can easily get rid of the dozens of photos taken by Charlotte. Lots of times I delete her pictures and all the others I’ve taken that are less than ideal.

But every once in a while I keep all her photos. I keep the progression of her selfies smiling and showing her new teeth coming in. I keep the pictures from the vantage point of the couch showing my daughter’s toes, books piled on the floor, and blanket forts. I keep the close-up Facetime pics. I keep the detailed photos of wildflowers and tree bark. I keep the silly faces made by friends and family.

Because the truth is that my day-to-day reality is more like the pictures I might choose to delete. Pictures show us a snapshot of one moment in this life, a moment that is ours to live and experience. A moment that is ours to love and be loved. So when I look back through my pictures, I do love the beautifully curated photos where everyone is smiling and we’re all dressed in clean clothes and our hair is brushed. But most days, that’s not our reality. It’s a bit messier than that. And yet it’s just as full. And just as beautiful. My life - full of joy, laughter, struggles, pain, mess, beauty - shows up in photos that are less than perfect. But what’s perfect is the fact that the photo was taken in a moment of this life and that I’m here to witness and say: thank you God.

Below are just such photos that at first glance my fingers wanted to hit delete and take a do-over, but instead I took a moment to see what was really in front of me: life, love, wholeness, and beauty.

These photos are the gifts given to me to celebrate my family brimming with life, and when they are all put together they are worth keeping, no do-over needed.

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This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series "Do-Over." 

Do-Over Photo Credit: @pheonixfeatherscalligraphy for C+C, 2021